Friday, June 02, 2006

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Sticky)

Post all comments about Alice's Adventure in Wonderland here.

UPDATED Next assignment:
Let's do the next three chapters for Monday, since nothing happened while I was out. So that would be chaps 7-9, I think. Sound good?


Killer Llama said...

Currently reading: Chapters 1 and 2. Discussion begins on June 5.

kristybox said...

For the record, I read it outloud to Ander after his 3 a.m. feeding, and it took ten minutes to read both chapters. Ander fell asleep.

I hope my comments aren't too disjointed, but here they go.

She has a sister. All this time of watching that stupid Disney cartoon, and I never noticed.

`and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?' Wonderful quote, especially fitting for us as we start a group whose purpose is to converse about a book. Paca, did you consider this book becasue you knew about this quote?

The author uses the word "daisy-chain." I wonder if he intends the sexual reference.

The difference between Alice and White Rabbit: Alice asks "who in the world am I?" She cannot place herself, mostly because she cannot seem to measure her relationships with others. Instead, she compares herself to others. White Rabbit, while crazy and compulsive, knows exactly who he is, because he measures himself in terms of his relationships. He cannot be late, or he'll be in trouble. It's all about his position and connection with another, no matter how unhealthy. Alice, however, can only conceive of BEING someone else, and struggles with the whole relationship give and take, even when she meets Mouse. She si so unaware that she is drowning in her own tears. That's not about sorrow; it's about awareness of oneself.

Another example? She asked Mouse not to be angry when she offended him by talking about Cat. But Mouse wasn't angry, per se. He was disturbed, threatened, and annoyed. When one talks about something that one knows is or should be a sensitive subject to another, the person listening doesn't usually get angry at the speaker. It's more of a shocked that the speaker would be so crude attitude. But Alice was not self-aware enough to do this.

I've never read this story all the way through, and truthfully don't know how it ends, but I hope that Alice finds some self-awareness.

kristybox said...

Hey, I wrote that whole set of comments without mentioned the BIG/SMALL phenomenon. Interesting.

pacatrue said...

Well, even I at my slow reading pace was able to read this quickly. One recurring thought I had throughout both chapters was: who is this written for? It has appealed to both adults and children since it's publication in 1865, which, of course, for reference was the final year of the American Civil War (oh wait, I'm Southern. I mean "the war with any other name that gets us off the hook for having been in the wrong). By current standards, the vocab is quite elevated. You are supposed to know who William the Conqueror is and his relavance to the history of the English language. There's a joke that requires you understand declensions in a Latin Grammar book. (The grammar is teaching the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocatice cases, respectively.) How much of this is a child supposed to get? Do they just read over that stuff and remember funny things about getting big and small? Was Carroll writing for children and he didn't know some stuff wouldn't be gotten, or was he writing for adults and it happens to be good for kids too? I skimmed the intro in my book and apparently the story started as something to do when he was in a boat with another adult and three girls, one being the 10 year old Alice. So the basic themes were definitely created with a child in mind, but when writing the story up, was he still writing for her?

This brings up another point. Let's say Carroll was writing for a child. Maybe many things are just supposed to be silly. There is no greater meaning, perhaps, to being Small then Big then Small, other than it is kind of funny and a child would like the idea. Also, is there any great mysterious structure to Wonderland? So when Alice wants to be small a drink appears. When she wants to be big, a cake appears. Are we to say that this is all her dream or some other structure, or is it simply the author randomly putting things in the world as he needs them? A lot of people write nowadays to make a Point. The protagonist grows in some way, etc. Maybe Carroll was trying to create an experience with no greater point.

Killer Llama said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen the Disney version of this story, but, assuming I have, it was long, long ago in a 'Boro far, far away. In other words, I don't remember much. I couldn't tell you anything about the story. The charactes, of course, are very memorable. The White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Madd Hatter and Chesher Cat. Wonderfully whimsical. But as to what happens? Uhmm... some people lose their heads, and uh...

So I'm basically starting this blank.

The thing that immediately struck me is something Paca commented on... the lack of internal logic. There's no rational for what happens and why. There's no guiding rule to the universe. Absolutely anything goes.

Carrol is pretty amazing that he can create such a universe... I know I couldn't. A few years back I wrote a little children's short story that was fantastical in nature, but it still followed an internal logic. I don't know how to think otherwise... the idea that a cup would just appear where moments later there was none... totally foreign to my way of thinking.

So, my first impression was that is a crazy world and Carroll must have been on some heavy meds when writing it. But my new theory is less cynical and more admiring. Not only is Carroll writing this about a kid, for kids, but also as a kid. Remember back when you were under 10 and playing make believe? If you needed a cup, just reach over and take one. If you are falling, you tend to do it in slow motion with plenty of time to think about what's going on around you. Things can change in a flash to fit whatever new playtime environment is required.

So, I'm thinking that on one level at least, this is written to be a translation of Alice's playtime imagination. If a child were really to fall miles into a deep hole, far from her mother and sister, don't you think she might be a little bit frightened? Cry a bit? Call for help? I think so. Alice doesn't because Alice isn't really there... it's all playtime for her. She knows it... Carroll knows it... it's just not spelled out for the audience. But the absurdity makes sense if viewed through the eyes of a child pretending. Watch, though, next chapter she'll start crying for her mom, ruining my nice little theory.

The other thing that struck me is how much Alice looks like my niece, Elie. Not just a little bit, either... the drawings are so close it's spooky. The high forehead, the large, slightly downturned eyes. Not to mention that they both think they are the boss of everyone :)

I also picked up on the line, as did KBox, about the use of books without pictures or conversations. I found it a bit self referential by the author though, as this particular book is filled with many pictures and conversations.

KBox, thanks for the insight on Alice's self awareness... I hadn't picked up on that. And Paca, would you please elucidate further on the Latin joke? Where is it, and what are those voices?

-E said...

well, first off the version i picked up has end notes. alot of the education references are explained as to what was typical for boys and girls at the time. "o mouse", was probably from her older brother's latin book - "o muse."

the whole book read like an inside joke. the footnotes are constantly referencing other people in the liddle world (the real alice's family). the mouse is possibly the liddle governess. the dodo is carroll, the other 3 animals are her two sisters and some reverend who was on the boating expedition.

i had heard lots of nasty things about lewis carrol, all of which are alluded to by not stated in the commentary in my book, but i just realized, he is the 19th century michael jackson... was he having an improper relationship with alice? i don't know.

carrol describes alice as curious and wise, which i think shows, at the least, his admiration for Alice. one line that struck me as quite odd was, "for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people" does anyone else get the feeling that he is imbuing alice with his own feelings and thoughts? it seems to me that carrol spent a lifetime pretending to be two people. there is the adult Charles Dodgson and the child lewis carroll.

it was very philosophical in places. "Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I'll come up: if not, I'll stay down here till I'm somebody else"--i understand how this could appeal to children in heavily structured societies, and many adults too. it's saying, i would rather stay a child than become an adult i don't want to be. and to throw a (very small) wrench in llama's theory she then adds "`I do wish they WOULD put their heads down! I am so VERY tired of being all alone here!'"

i don't understand what was up with the cupboards in the hole while she was falling. is this just nonsense to be funny, or is there something else there? and why was she falling for so long?

i do remember the movie (to a certain extent) and i remember the mouse from the tea party "twinkle twinkle little bat, how i wonder where your at". and the scene where alice can't climb up the table leg seemed much more harrowing in the movie version. maybe cause it all happens so quickly in the book i don't dwell on it like i should if i were putting myself in the action.

and my thoughts would occasionlly stray to the matrix while i was reading the book, which can't be productive. i am glad we are reading this book, because it seems that there are alot of popular references to the story that aren't always clear if all you have is disney's version.

and one final note, if we think of this as a dream, and carrol is the dreamer, a theory is that every character in the book is some facet of himself.

kristybox said...

Wow, I learned something, or at least thought about the story differently, based on every comment so far. Interesting.

Killer Llama said...

Currently reading: Chapters 3 and 4. Discussion begins on June 8.

myste said...

Is it too late to get in on this book club? I read the first two chapters last night, and these are my brief and meaningless comments.

Reading the flavors of the bottle reminded me of Harry Potter's every flavor beans.

I think the author was very good at portraying the nature of a child. Alice has only a very slightly developed ability to consider the future consequences of her actions.

Alice seems to be oblivious that her situation is absurd until she starts to verbalize it..."What nonsense I'm talking!" And when falling down the well, "Do cats eat bats, do bats eat cats?"

And my parting thought was, for a book that is always touted as a timeless classic, there are a lot of dated references. How accessible will this book really be to children in another 50 years?

kristybox said...

Welcome, Misty.

And I'm glad the deadline has been extended. We're house-hunting this week, and I feel behind!

kristybox said...

Chp. 3 & 4

Honestly, this story sucks. I keep thinking it will get better, and it doesn't. I'm an orderly person and the story is so disjointed that it would only make sense were I high. We didn't read much, but I kept falling asleep.

The whole "circle around the mouse" and "everyone wins a prize" thing was cheesy. I really couldn't fathom that the author was actually trying to make a point, but it reminded me of t-ball, when all the kids get trophies. That always drives me crazy.

I did find it interesting that such a "dry" history lesson was intended to get them dry. :)

Why does Alice do what the rabbit says? Is that in there to prove she is a child?

pacatrue said...

I am inclined to agree with Kristy in that these two chapters don't seem to be the best ones. After all, of all of the famous characters we know from Alice in Wonderland, the Mouse and Dodo are not among them. A question I had is, "who is Mary Ann?" Does she exist? Is Alice actually Mary Ann but she doesn't know it?

I was also contemplating why these two chapters don't strike Kristy and I greatly. She identified some stuff. Another part of it is the complete lack of the contemporary fascination with building tension. Carroll drops Alice down a rabbit hole at the beginning, and so I guess there is a little plot that she will want to get out. But of course, she isn't actually even trying to get out at all yet. When she does think of doing something, she's going to go look for the pretty garden inside Wonderland. We just don't write novels like this now, where you can wander around and just have experiences. Instead, everything is written with the idea of rising tension. The main character has a goal; there are obstacles in the way of achieving that goal; etc.

I also did decide to give a little thought finally to why we keep going big then small then big then small then big them small, if I haven't lost count. Carroll was very interested in what is possible and what is not possible. He was a logic professor. He likes things that seem to refer to one thing but actually refer to another; i.e., all the word play. He likes refer back to itself in a manner that can easily become paradoxical. ("Someone ought to write a book about me one day," says Alice.) He likes things that make no sense from one perspective but make complete sense from another perspective. I think the changing in size is just part of that. With a simple change in how big you are, you interact differently with the world. When Alice is small, she immediately runs off to do the Rabbit's bidding. When she's big, she swatting the rabbit like a fly knocking him over and threatening him. Similarly, when normal size she'd like to teach the puppy tricks. But when big, she has to run away from the puppy. So is Alice courageous or not? Is she kind or not? It all seems to change from one moment to the next as her size changes back and forth.

-E said...

well, since i was stuck in a car for 20 hours this week-end, i read all of adventures in wonderland and made a good start on through the looking glass... but i will try to keep my comments on topic.

i think i may have to go back and reread these chapters and see if this is like a quest. quests tend to have a more obvious goal that would conclude the quest, but the quest is really about self discovery and improvement. alice to me seems to have no sense of what is appropriate behavior towards strangers and what is not.

i wonder if alice becomeing to big for the white rabits house is carrols way of saying she is too big for the domestic life that most girls such as herself would have been bound for. carrol has already had some criticisms of the eductional differences between girls and boys.

i agree that the book is getting off to a very slow start... there is some improvement in certain areas and no improvement in other areas.

my book's commentary pointed out that the puppy is the only creature in wonderland who does not speak to alice. and mary ann was a typical name for servants at the time.

Killer Llama said...

Contrary to everyone else, it seems, I'm enjoying the story so far. True, it isn't following a classical narrative structure, but I'm able to get into the sheer whimsy of it. The mouse's attempt to towel everyone off by reciting the driest thing he knows left me chuckling.

However I am puzzled at Alice... she seems less like a real character than just a mobile plot device to which the other more unusual creatures, and even the world itself, reacts. Example: she's in a house, she sees a potion, she decides to drink it.

Why? She knows it will either shrink her, in which case she'll be unable to get rabbit's items, or grow her, in which case she'll be to big to escape the house.

When she is smaller she is more intimidated, and when she is bigger she's quite the bully, kicking folks out of chimneys just to see what happens. Alot of this can be explained away as being child(ish)(like), but I wonder if there's a non-so-subtle commentary there about the corruption of power.

Oh, and, yes, indeed, in chapter 3 Alice cries from loneliness. Oh, well... twas a silly theory anyway!

Sexynerd9297 said...

can't ya'll create a second blog just for the alice and wonderland thing? and add a link to it on your current one, casue now all ya'll talk about is it and its really nice to know what paca and lama are doing/thinking about beside this. just a thought, i understand that everyone who reads or comments on this site is particpating in the alice thing.

-E said...

scroll down. the llama and paca blogs are below.

This just stays at the top so we can find it easily.

-E said...

thank goodness alice met the caterpillar. it seems his admonishment to "hold your temper" is doing her some good and his gift of the mushroom is giving her some control over her height. although alice still doesn't know who she is.

i found the pig and pepper fiasco very disturbing. i wonder if this is a family joke that the cook uses to much pepper or something.

and the cheshire cat, who can resist the fluffy guy. i remember this scene in the disney version of the movie being much scarier though...

pacatrue said...

-e mentioned the cheshire cat in the Disney version. I haven't seen that movie since an early teen, but I remember liking it. Mostly I remember the song "painting the roses red." I keep thinking as I read this, "how did they make a Disney movie from this stuff?"

Anyway, I'm going to go all linguisticky on you for a bit based on these two chapters.

So when you are talking about meaning in a sentence, there are two common components that are necessary for meaning. One is the syntax. That's the form of the sentence and it tells you what role each word plays. So English, for instance, has the basic form of subject - verb - object, so that the noun which comes first is the subject. Chinese is the same form. Other languages have different orders. In German, the verb comes at the end. There are a very small number of languages in which the object comes first. So in English and Chinese, you get "the boy kicked the ball." In German you get "the boy the ball kicked." In another language, you might get "the ball the boy kicked." where the object is first. In this example you can guess who kicked what from the fact that balls don't do much kicking. But if you had "the girl the boy bit," the only way to know who bit whom is from knowing syntax.

The next component is semantics or meaning. "The ball" means something. "The boy" means something. "Kick" means something. In theory you combine the meaning of the words with the structure of the sentence and you understand what the person is saying.

Of course, it's really not that easy. In addition to these basics, there are a whole lot of assumptions about how people will speak and act in a conversation, which are so taken for granted, we often cannot understand what someone is saying if they violate them, even if we get all of their words. Some of these rules were stated by a man named Paul Grice in the 70s, and they are called Grice's Maxims. Here they are:

Maxim of Quantity:
1. Make your contribution to the conversation as informative as necessary.
2. Do not make your contribution to the conversation more informative than necessary.

Maxim of Quality:
1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Maxim of Relevance:
Be relevant (i.e., say things related to the current topic of the conversation).

Maxim of Manner:
1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
2. Avoid ambiguity.
3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary wordiness).
4. Be orderly.

An example of these maxims at play is with counting. Let's say there are 4 apples in front of two people. Person 1 asks, "How many apples are there?" Person 2 says "three apples." Person 1 thinks the other is wrong. "How many?" they ask again. "Three apples," person 2 responds again. Person 1 thinks person 2 is insane or cannot count. In fact, person 2 is correct. There are 3 apples there. There are also two apples and one apple. And there are 4 apples. But person one assumes that when you ask how many apples there are that the other person will say how many apples there are in total. Person 2 is violating the Maxim of Quantity.

Another example of conversational principles at play is someone asking, "can you pass the salt?" The correct answer is to say, "sure" and pass it down. But that's not actually what the person asked. They actually asked if the person was capable of passing the salt, not whether or not they would. We all know someone who likes to make this little joke and answer, "yes" and then proceed to get some more water from the fridge.

It seems chapters 5 and 6 are huge explorations of what happens when these principes of conversation are thrown out the window. Alice doesn't appear able to hold a conversation with any one she meets. It's not because they don't understand the words she is saying or their syntax. Instead they share virtually no principles of how to hold a conversation. Each word is taken literally by everyone, so that there are no implicit hints or idioms. People say things that are irrelevant to the way a normal English conversation is held. The result is that, despite speaking the same sorts of words in the same sorts of orders, no one understands what anyone else is talking about.

This happens, of course, when you learn a new language. The learning person doesn't share many of the cultural and conversational assumptions that the native speaker assumes, so they come off kind of funny. But usually the native speaker finds it funny or rude, but not weird. There are lots of cues that the learning is learning - off pronunciations, smaller vocab, funny intonation, etc. But in Alice in Wonderland, all that other stuff is just right. It's like they speak English fully, just like Alice does, but still don't get what she's talking about. It's very disorienting.

-E said...

lost and more lost.

i was thinking of the cheshire cat this morning. alice doesn't seem to care that she is lost when she asks him for directions; i am not even sure she knows she is lost. but what popped into my head while pondering this was from labyrinth, when sara is about to fall into the obliet and the helping hands ask her: "up or down? which way do you want to go? which way?" it doesn't occur to sara to ask which way she should go until it is too late. i think this may be a common motif when lost; in order to find your way, you must get more lost first. hansel and gretel had all their crumbs eaten.

-E said...

since i finished the book already, i am good to go.

-E said...

chapters 7-9 left me feeling confused. all that miscommunications, it was hard to follow in some places. but i did rather enjoy the part with all the different subject taught at the school the mock turtle attended.

the duchess seemed a little unusual in the way she was so familiar with alice.

and it seemed like the cheshire cat was more sinister in the disney movie... the scene where alice almost says something about the queen but then catches her self... in the movie it seemed like the cheshire cat was trying to trip her up, but when i read it i didn't get the same impression. it also feels increasingly like alice is reliving previous conversations but learning from her past experiences.

kristybox said...

I tried to read it. I really did. It just sucks the brains right out of my head, so now I'm out. :(

I'll try again with the next selection.

pacatrue said...

Well, I am still in with you, -e, but I am behind. It will probably be Thursday before I can add my comments, as I am behind in French homework. So... stay tuned.